Eco-friendly mindset critical for climate fight

08:00 | 15/02/2021

Looking back on the past five years of development in Vietnam, the natural resources and environment authorities have made great strides and taken an active approach in tackling environmental issues up and down the country. Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha talks with VIR’s Phuong Thu about how the vital sector has weathered the varying and unpredictable storms with both practical steps and legal guidance so as to develop sustainably.

tet 12 eco friendly mindset critical for climate fight
Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha

How has the sector approached the challenging times and managed environmental issues during the past five years?

From the first year of implementing the 2016-2020 plan, the natural resources and environment sector had confronted mounting challenges. Scores of problems have existed for years like incomplete policies, growth models, a lack of sustainability, and heavy reliance on local resources, cheap workforce, and overuse of the environment.

In addition, our ministry has dealt with dragging land disputes with complex proceedings, severe drought in the southcentral and Central Highlands provinces, and unprecedented saltwater intrusion in the Mekong Delta.

Serious incidents with the ocean environment also caused critical consequences to localities in the central region, threatening environmental security. The coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc socially and economically, slowing down growth and causing a recession.

It was inevitable for Vietnam, with its increasingly open economy and broadening international integration, to be hit by detrimental impacts. Natural calamities like droughts, storms, and land erosion also left huge impacts on people’s lives in many localities.

In this context, with close guidance from the Party, the National Assembly, and the government, as well as the support from other ministries, sectors, and localities, the natural resources and environment sector availed of its initiative and creativity, ensuring the settlement of these numerous issues in a well-conceived manner, with a high sense of responsibility and a focus on removing barriers and serving socioeconomic development.

The sector has been working diligently to consult with the Party and the state for the enactment of major policies and orientations of long-term strategic importance to feed the country’s new development period.

Early in the new tenure, a series of environmental incidents took place at several locations and different projects, such as with the case of the Taiwan-backed steel complex Formosa in the central province of Ha Tinh, which caused serious environmental pollution with long-lasting effects.

Other burning issues are related to land such as disputes, the loose management of minerals, and growing complexities concerning climate change and natural disasters. These have all caused serious headaches for the sector’s top leaders and staff. Thus, we focused on solving these incidents on a case-by-case basis.

With regards to environmental protection, we understood that the price would be too high if we let development happen first, before considering environmental protection.

From Formosa’s lessons, we paid due regards to learning from other nations’ experiences, and from there made suitable policy adjustments as well as presented management tools to screen projects that could potentially turn out harmful to the environment.

Could you shine some light on policy moves after the Formosa case to spur on sustainable development?

Preventive measures must be considered key to ensuring efficiency in natural resources management, environmental protection, and coping with climate change impacts and as such, economic development must be in harmony with environmental protection.

In fields like land, water, and mineral resources, the ministry has worked with localities to fix bottlenecks within the legal system, striving to gear resources towards serving development needs and ensuring the effective usage of natural resources.

Until now, the sector’s management authorities have changed mindsets and management methods, recognising the importance of environmental issues which are now set as one of the three pillars for Vietnam’s sustainable development, with the other two pillars being economy and society.

Green growth, green economy, and the circular economy are real buzzwords today. However, towards achieving these it is essential to push the application of IT in management, basic surveys, supervision, administrative reforms, and more.

One remarkable achievement of the sector is the shift from passive behaviour towards taking the initiative in research activities to give birth to suitable policies that consider market mechanisms, enabling the sector to grow into a spearhead of the economy.

To ensure sustainability, it is important that all legal aspects – from investment proposals and development planning to environmental impacts assessment – must be made with high prudence. These also need to leverage technology and global experience as we do not have sufficient information to select the most eco-friendly technology.

It is also necessary to encourage specialists and scientists to take part in evaluating project impacts and increase exposure of information, allowing people to participate in supervision.

The next step is clearly defining the responsibilities of businesses in investment to assess and forecast possible impacts, particularly regarding thorny issues such as wastewater, gas emissions, and solid waste.

We have listed 17 types of industrial production that need special supervision mechanisms with impact assessments, supervision, post-construction control, and licensing.

Flexibility in investment project approval is another factor. In some areas, we might consider approval for investment in a particular field but such a project must not get the go-ahead in other sensitive locations. This must be made from the very early stages as we engage in regional and environmental planning to avoid the occurrence of possible conflicts.

Do you have any concerns about the efficient management of natural resources and environment issues at this point?

I have many concerns. As natural resources and environmental issues are quite a huge field with heavy reliance on other economic sectors, finding the right growth mindset and model while fixing environmental issues is not an overnight task.

Natural resources are a national asset. How can we get hold of these to ensure their efficient use? Towards this goal, it would demand a colossal volume of surveys and assessments, while we still lack the annual resources to even carry out basic surveys on the mainland, let alone in the sea areas.

Regarding climate change impacts, despite our concerted efforts, these impacts remain largely unpredictable, leaving a burden on the sector. It mandates us to further improve the quality of forecasts and warnings. More importantly, we need to properly assess climate change impacts and present smart plans for adaption, instead of just being passive in dealing with its implications.

Vietnam is one of the countries bearing the toughest brunt of climate change, so we must ramp up efforts to eliminate the causes leading to these phenomena and need to do a smart job with supervision activities.

Natural resources and the environment are closely related to people, but we also must ensure economic growth. It is therefore important to reach a balance between putting resources into development while harmonising the demands for preservation.

Noteworthy points for natural resources and environment sector in 2020

1

The revised Law on Environmental Protection was passed. For the first time, the residential community is regulated as a subject in environmental protection; along with enhancing consultation and the supervisory and critical role of residential communities when partaking in environmental protection activities.

The prime minister also enacted policies and solutions on enhanced management, reuse, recycling, and treatment of plastic waste; as well as several urgent measures to strengthen solid waste management, among others.

2

Last year marked the most critical year in Vietnam’s environmental history, with the occurrence of abnormal natural disasters across the country. Right from the first days of the Lunar New Year hail and storms raided many northern localities vigorously.

The dry season brought critical water shortage to the Mekong Delta; saltwater intrusion took place early and dragged along, even surpassing the record level set in 2016.

During the rainy season, localities in the central region incurred constant chains of natural disasters, taking a huge toll on humans and assets with devastating impacts on the lives and production of millions of people in the region.

3

The government integrated and operated e-government solutions and completed the targets on the provision of level 4 public services, connecting the national public service portal and the national information report system with a huge amount of quality data on public service provision in natural resources and environmental issues.

The sector continued pushing IT application and constituting its infrastructure to ensure efficient management. The sector hosted a slew of international online conferences on a regional and global scale and got praise for its public administration reform index and satisfaction index of public administration services.

4

The updates to Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) won plaudits from the international community. Despite mounting challenges, Vietnam is one of the few countries having fulfilled its updates to the NDCs with higher commitments driving down climate change impacts.

Simultaneously, state management contents on climate change were fully legalised in the revised Law on Environmental Protection 2020. The national plan on climate change adaption for the 2021-2030 period, with a vision towards 2050, was enacted by the prime minister.

5

The National Steering Committee on implementing a sustainable development strategy for the marine economy to 2030, with a vision towards 2045, was established and chaired by the prime minister.

Its key function is to support the prime minister in dealing with major, intersectoral issues for sustainable development of Vietnam’s marine economy over the next decade and beyond.

6

Dak Nong Geopark was awarded the UNESCO Global Geoparks certificate to join the Global Geoparks Network. Meanwhile, the Thai Thuy wetland nature reserve in the northern province of Thai Binh and the Tam Giang-Cau Hai wetland nature reserve in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue were established.

7

The Vietnam National Plastic Action Partnership platform was launched, spearheaded by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment with support from the World Economic Forum and the World Wide Fund for Nature Vietnam to realise commitments in reducing plastic pollution and developing the circular economy.

8

A set of topographic border maps at a scale of 1:25,000 in Vietnam and Cambodia was completed, fully showcasing border demarcation results with a total of 2,047 national landmarks for handover to relevant Cambodian and Vietnamese authorities.

9

The first phase of the government project on surveying underground water sources in highland areas and those with water scarcity was completed. A total of 454 works were executed with sufficient conditions to build 189 water supply stations in 36 provinces. Water supply capacity in surveyed areas is estimated to reach nearly 105,000 cubic metres per day, sufficient to feed 1.05 million people with standard usage of 100 litres per capita per day.

The move contributes to ensuring the effective implementation of sustainable poverty reduction programmes for millions of people living in rural, highland, and border areas.

10

The national science and technology programme on coping with climate change, natural resources, and environmental management during 2016-2020 was praised for its important contributions. Many projects were also registered for intellectual property protection.

The programme outcomes have contributed to helping the country more effectively cope with climate change as well as achieve higher efficiency in natural resources management and environmental protection on a national scale.

Phuong Thu

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